Small Claims Court 3

Today was my trial date in Small Claims Court.

Last night I re-read my copy of the small blue booklet called Your Guide to Small Claims & Commercial Small Claims in: New York City, Nassau County, Suffolk County, concentrating on What do I do on the day of my trial?, starting on page 13.

There I re-learned that I could choose whether my case would be heard by an arbitrator or a judge. I’d already determined to ask for a judge, simply because a case can’t be appealed from an arbitrator and although I’m almost entirely sure I won’t need to appeal — we don’t appeal when we win, do we? — I wanted that option, just in case.

As the booklet says (page 14), “If a judge will decide your case, you may have to return on another date.” So I was prepared for not having my case heard today. But I read through my entire chronological file anyway (it has grown to about 75 pages) and made two copies of it, one for my defendant and one for the judge.

As I told you in my last Small Claims post, Larry, one of the Skush-O’Brien lawyers, had appeared for them on that first date; I fully expected to see him today. And I did. I sat down next to him, we chit-chatted about the cold, blah blah. I mentioned I was sort of surprised that we were there again. “Are you going to be defending this?” I asked him, because this case is pretty indefensible:

Summary of the Indefensible Case. The Skush-O’Briens’ apartments had leaked numerous times since 2010, the leaks had not been sealed up promptly and the leaks had damaged, first, my bathroom ceiling and, second, my living room ceiling. And when I asked, as was my right, to have a contractor repair the ceilings, Griggsby, the building manager, had sent a contractor to look at the ceilings and then had not responded to my many, many e-mails requesting that the contractor return to do the repairs.

I had had the ceilings repaired myself and after some irritations had paid two contractors a total of $3097.45. I had sent a nice but firmly certified letter to Griggsby, enclosing the invoices and my canceled checks, requesting that he reimburse me. By Friday, May 11, 2012. Which he didn’t. Thus, Small Claims Court.

Resuming today. Larry did a cute little lawyer’s thing: he hemmed and then he hawed and then he murmured a sort of, “Well, let’s see what happens.” Why is that cute? Because we both knew what was going to happen.

So what was going to happen? First, Larry said he was going to ask for a judge and I told him that was fine; that’s what I’d planned to do. So we both agreed we’d undoubtedly not be heard today. That Not Happening was what was going to … not happen.

The courtroom pews were quite full, half of people and half of their heavy winter coats and additional paraphernalia. (Under there somewhere might have been a couple of huskies.)  The clerk instructed us to answer with our names when he called them. He prefaced the roll call with a witty little speech, about how if we think we’d get a better judgment from a judge, we were wrong, this wasn’t The People’s Court, and if we thought we’d do well in an appeal, we were wrong, but if we wanted a judge, append the word “Application” to our name when we called out.

Then he ran a roll call, reading off large cards. I enjoyed the reading because many of the parties were businesses — United Health Care was one — and some of the business names were amusing. You know, like “Kozy Kitty Korner and Impey Biggs,” and a voice in response would ring out “Freddy Arbuthnot!” and the clerk would say, “Are you Kozy Kitty Korner or …?”

If the two sides both answered, without asking for a judge, the clerk beckoned them up to his desk, he handed their card to a fully accoutered court officer (badges and guns, you know) who escorted them past the bench through a back door whence they disappeared, maybe forever. (I guess arbitrators lurk in secret compartments.)

Not too many people were escorted, because not everyone answered. (The clerk said there’d be another roll call later. I assume that if one side didn’t show up, the case would default to the side that did. As I’ve told you before: showing up is really important.)

After our names were called, Larry asked if we could settle the case. Well, yeah, I said. I kind of thought that’s what we would do before today, but hey I was still willing to talk. So he said, “Let’s get a control date [for trial, he meant], and between now and then, we’ll talk.” So we both went up to the clerk and got a date for trial of March 27. “This year?” I asked. (I was just being cheeky.)

Now, I must come in praise of yet another clerk. The Small Claims Court clerk (try saying that at 9:30 a.m., fast) is a big man, with a big voice that manages to be both loud and genial. He is witty, although his wit is subtle. He was dressed in a pale salmon-colored shirt with a tie that had a salmon stripe. Very coordinated, very pleasing to the eye.

I complimented him on his personality. He thanked me and said, “Write a letter.” I told him I’d do better than that: I’d praise him here.

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